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Vision impaired people face 'stress and anxiety' as lockdown eases

Visually impaired people are suffering with stress and anxiety as lockdown eases – struggling with social distancing and following guidance written on signs.

Blind and partially sighted people are anxious about public spaces becoming busier and have lost confidence in going outside after a year of COVID-19 restrictions, according to charities who support them.

Measures to enforce social distancing often rely on the ability to see things clearly, such as public health signs, queuing systems or barriers.

When someone cannot see clearly, these can create new obstacles and further erode confidence.

Berkshire Vision, a local charity which supports visually impaired children and adults, said that people it supports have been shouted at in the street for failing to socially distance.

In these cases, the visually impaired person was simply unable to see that the other individual was nearby.

“While some visual impairments are obvious to others, many are not,” said Berkshire Vision CEO Laura Mitchell.

“We would like everyone to think about why people may not be social distancing and make space themselves.”

Judy Stimson jointly runs the Maidenhead Macular Society Support Group with her husband Don. Though the members have some sight, they can struggle to see things.

“Signs written on a coloured background are awful for people with visual impairment,” said Judy. “I saw a sign the other day on a red background, which is a big no-no.”

“People think ordinary type-font is OK but you do need large font,” she added.

“A lot of the notices are signs people have made themselves, not Government ones. They are doing the best they can to stick to guidance and don’t think about visual impairment. We tend not to think of the things that don’t affect us.”

Supermarkets also present a challenge when hand sanitiser units are moved around, especially if they are coloured black, which blends into the background.

It can also be alienating when signs cannot be read – for example, when Judy was not able to read a sign outside a bank, she had to be asked to stand outside while her husband completed his transaction.

“That made me feel like I had leprosy,” she said.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is calling on local authorities and businesses to take action so that measures designed to protect people are inclusive to everyone, not just to those who can see them.

It has also asked that regular people on the street be aware of the challenges that visually impaired people face and ask if assistance is needed.

This can help a person with visual impairments keep their independence and stay safe.

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